Numismatics

The numismatic collection at the Gallery, at more than 120,000 objects, is by far the largest and most diverse held by any American university. It is displayed, in part, in a dedicated exhibition gallery and housed in the Bela Lyon Pratt Study Room for Numismatics.
Sestertius of Julia Domna from Rome
Tetradrachm of Antiochus VIII and Cleopatra
Electrum hekte
"Libertas Americana" Medal
Cistophorus of Hadrian
Tetradrachm of Antiochus VIII and Cleopatra

About Numismatics

The numismatics room and gallery were made possible by a gift from a descendant of Bela Lyon Pratt, a Connecticut medalist and sculptor who studied at Yale, and one display case is devoted to his designs. Other cases explore the First World War through coins, medals, currency, and currency-related objects. Taken together, these cases offer the most extensive and comprehensive installation of numismatic material ever at Yale. The display is on view adjacent to the Bela Lyon Pratt Study Room, where visitors may make an appointment to view collection material.

The Gallery’s collection of numismatic material is among the University’s oldest, dating to the early years of the 19th century. By 1863 the holdings numbered some 3,000 items; two decades later the Greek and Roman portions alone totaled over 3,200. Formerly known as the Yale Numismatic Collection, jurisdiction over it passed from the University Library to the Yale University Art Gallery in 2001. The collection now comprises over 120,000 pieces and is by far the largest assemblage at any American university.

The collection provides the basis not only for formal instruction in numismatics but also for expanding the horizons of historians, art historians, archaeologists, and the general public. Its great strength remains Greco-Roman, including examples of the earliest coinage of western Asia Minor, the supreme artistic achievements of Syracuse and southern Italy, and masterpieces of Hellenistic and Roman portraiture. Silver coinage from the Roman Republic has been systematically acquired, and the collection of imperial coins is comprehensive; it has been augmented in recent years by the purchase of the collection of Professor Peter R. and Leonore Franke (over 4,100 pieces of Greek cities and the provinces) and the acquisition of roughly the first half of the collection of Ben Lee Damsky (about 900 pieces), which has enhanced the Gallery’s imperial holdings. The strengths of the collection include fine examples from the English and German traditions, a broad selection of Renaissance medals, and the coins from Dura-Europos, which complement the Gallery’s other holdings from this important Yale excavation in the 1930s.

For the modern period, one of the most important single bequests was C. W. Betts’s collection of medals pertaining to the American Revolution, which was the basis of a scholarly study from 1894 that remains in use today. The collection also includes paper money, with many thousands of Confederate notes selected to represent virtually every issue of the Civil War period, as well as a superb run of Connecticut coppers from the 18th century. The numismatics collection has recently been fortunate to receive transformative support from Susan and John Jackson, B.A. 1967, and the Liana Foundation, which will see the department’s activities, and its holdings of paper currency and related artwork, expand exponentially.

Learn More about the Numismatics Room

Note from the Curator

To mark the centennial of the end of the First World War, numismatic material from both sides of the conflict is now on view in the Bela Lyon Pratt Gallery. Five cases with themed displays address various aspects of the war; the vast majority of the objects are medals, which by the early 20th century had become an important medium of artistic expression for the masses. Only a fraction of the Gallery’s collection of the thousands of different types of medals produced by both sides is on view.

The three nations that manufactured the most medals—Belgium, France, and Germany—produced medals with vastly different artistic styles. German medallic artists, such as Karl Goetz, rejected the refinement of Art Nouveau in lieu of coarseness. Whereas classical allegorical figures feature prominently on Belgian, French, and American medals, distancing the viewer from the horrors of the war, German medals were often grotesque, pointed, and satirical, with images of death and destruction. Despite their varying approach, both sides were acutely aware of the other’s medallic output and created works in response to one another. Some of the most prolific series of medals depicted the controversial sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915.

Benjamin Dieter R. Hellings
The Ben Lee Damsky Assistant Curator of Numismatics

The Sinking of the “Lusitania” (reverse), France, 1918. Designed by René Baudichon. Bronze. Yale University Art Gallery, Transfer from the Yale University Library, Numismatic Collection, 2001, Gift of Edward B. Greene, B.A. 1900

Meet the Curator

Benjamin Dieter R. Hellings

Benjamin Dieter R. Hellings, the Ben Lee Damsky Assistant Curator of Numismatics, joined the Gallery in late September 2016. He holds an M.Phil. from the University of Oxford, where he successfully defended his doctoral thesis in late November 2016. His research focuses on coin find patterns and the use of Roman coinage in northern Europe from ca. 50 B.C. to A.D. 410. Part of his dissertation research appears in the 2016 Numismatic Chronicle, in an article titled “The Denarii of Septimius Severus and the Mobility of Roman Coin: The Case of Roman Germany.” He is especially interested in the pre-Roman world of Temperate Europe, Roman coinage and the economy, and the use of numismatic “big data” for research and teaching.

benjamin.hellings@yale.edu

Further Reading

Bellinger, Alfred R. The Coins. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949.

Bellinger, Alfred R. “The Numismatic Evidence from Dura.” Berytus 8 (1943): 61–71.

Bellinger, Alfred R. “The Syrian Tetradrachms of Caracalla and Macrinus.” American Numismatic Society Numismatic Studies 3 (1940).

Hellings, Benjamin Dieter R. “An American Bank Note Company Collage.” Yale University Art Gallery Members Magazine (Spring 2018): 12.
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Hellings, Benjamin Dieter R. “The Mary Hyde Ottaway Collection of Ancient Coins.” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2017): 97-101.

Hellings, Benjamin Dieter R. “(Re-)Discovery: Yale’s Second and Third Noe II-A New England Shillings.” Journal of Early American Numismatics 1, no. 1 (2018): 67–73.

Metcalf, William E. “The Ben Lee Damsky Collection.” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2008): 95–105.
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Metcalf, William E. “Hadrianic Novelties.” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2011): 42–47.
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